Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Elmina and Cape Coast Castles

Allegra Czerwinski
 In Accra, Ghana
Journalism Student - Ohio Univ.

My heart is breaking at the thought of leaving this beautiful place tomorrow.  As I reflect on my experiences in Ghana this past month, I can’t believe how much I’ve learned by opening my eyes and ears to this country.

Our trip to Cape Coast on the first weekend was by far one of my favorite things we did.  The trip was treacherous: we traveled in a cram packed bus over winding and bumpy roads for five hours.  Our patience and our stomachs were definitely put to the test, but the reward was so great.  The Central region has a more laid-back atmosphere, not to mention a beachy breeze.  Our days were busy and our nights were relaxing.  Overall our weekend excursion was so fun, yet extremely informative. 

On our first day in the Central Region we visited Elmina Castle, which was established in 1482.  The castle was originally used for the trade of gold, ivory, limestone, and other natural resources pillaged from Ghana.  By the seventeenth century, the castle was repurposed to hold slaves.  The castle was a main hub for what would later be called the Triangle Trade.

Since the castle was not built with the original intention of holding people, the rooms in the cellar were often very small, with poor ventilation, and few if any windows.  The narrow doorways restricted movement of the enslaved, when the traders were ready to move their human cargo to be shipped.  The infamous door of no return was more like an oversized window, and was often the first and only time these enslaved Africans got to see the light of day before they were sold.

As I watched my colleague, Carol Hector Harris, peer out the door of no return, I couldn’t help but tear up.  Carol traveled to Ghana for the purpose of finding her family after tracing her lineage back to the GaAdengbe ethnic group.  There was no doubt that her ancestors had passed through those corridors many hundreds of years ago, for her existence as an African American could not have been possible otherwise.

Before visiting the Cape Coast Castle the following day, we were lucky to have a short lecture with Rabbi Kohain Haveli.  He offered exceptional insight that really enhanced my experience at the castles.  He told us that many Ghanaians aren’t fully aware of the great repercussions of slavery.  The subject is hardly taught in schools.  In fact, I later learned that education in Ghana is not a universal privilege.  When the Rabbi returned to Ghana to find his family, the Ghanaian people he encountered were apologetic for what happened to them. 

The Triangle Trade route stopped off in the Caribbean before coming to America.  This means that the groups of people who’ve come to be called Jamaicans, Trinidad and Tobagons, and even African Americans originated from the slave trade in Ghana.  The Rabbi would reply to his sympathizers by saying, “You should be sorry for us,”  for in reality, they are all Africans.  This leads me to believe that the Pan-African movement spreads beyond the African continent, to unite all Africans worldwide.

I failed to mention that throughout our trip to the Central Region, I was suffering from traveler’s sickness.  Even though I did not feel my best, I pushed myself to tour every slave-holding room in both castles.  At one point, our tour guide locked us in the room of condemnation.  This was a place that the oppressors would bring unruly slaves to die.  As we stood in the complete darkness, I knew that the pain I felt in my stomach was not even comparable to the degree of suffering the enslaved Africans were forced to experience.  The long drive to the Cape Coast was nothing compared to the voyage to America on the slave ships.

This entire trip, especially touring the castles, completely changed my perspective.  I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to visit Ghana, and to tour both castles on successive days.

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